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Student Stories: No Puedo Bailar Salsa

Julianna Shinnick, a Penn Nursing student from Northampton, MA, is in Peru, researching Chagas disease, and recently wrote about her experience, including an evening when she challenged herself to operate outside of her comfort zone and went dancing in a local salsa bar...

This summer, I am working on research about Chagas’ Disease in Arequipa, Peru. The work itself is familiar, as I have been working with the team from Philadelphia for several months now. We are preparing an intervention for community health workers to prevent Chagas’ Disease by teaching other community members to spray their houses with insecticide. I’m also writing a paper about childhood anemia in Peru. When I read about Chagas’ in Spanish, I know the terminology; the office is a space where I am comfortable if not proficient yet. Even handling the bugs, pinching them with tiny forceps, seems within reach for this nursing student.

The first time I was entirely outside my comfort zone was going dancing with some of the local students this Saturday. They kindly shepherded a group of American students to the nearest salsa bar and, even more kindly, tried to teach us the steps. But just like my non-native Spanish gnarls vowels when I’m speaking, my feet just can’t get the hang of the basic steps that the local Peruvian students have been learning since childhood. When one of the students asked me, “what kind of dance do you do in America?” my answer is that we don’t have a typical dance or steps that we’re used to practicing. Where it was possible to complete my day-to-day tasks at work, I felt entirely foreign on the dance floor. I felt so embarrassed, like a bad dream. But at some point in the night, I stopped worrying. I tried my best to make my feet do some semblance of what others were doing, but I also just let myself dance to the music. And then I had fun with new acquaintances who were kind in their review of my steps. Without searching for too much meaning or metaphor, the experience seemed to be relevant to a Type A student in a new environment. We work to hold ourselves to the same standards we do at home, but sometimes we just have to lighten up in a new place. Without focusing so much, maybe I’ll take more in.

This story originally appeared on Penn Abroad.